Postcards from Southbank to Brighton
Russell Degnan

Last Sunday, being a day without homework to do, and little else either for practically the first time in nearly 12 months, allowed me to make a little walking excursion. It had long been in my mind to wander down to Brighton for a look-see, and so, camera in hand, with a pleasant sun beating down and a cool breeze floating off the bay I did just that.

It's quite a long way, Brighton.

Coming from the city, Southbank is obviously first, and it must be said, the least pleasant suburb for walking in. As nice as some of the big buildings -- such as the new PricewaterhouseCoopers Building on the right -- are for taking photographs of, the persistent shadows, the heavy traffic, and the lack of interesting frontage make the streets devoid of greenery like concrete tunnels. Worse, the Southbank 'hinterland' as it is called, barely a hundred metres from the river, unlike other urban disasters around Melbourne was actually blessed with substantial investment. If any place demonstrates that developers can afford to be short-sighted, and anti-urban in outlook then Southbank is it. But does the State Government have to persistently help them achieve this through short-sighted lot consolidation and weak planning rules?

Escape the hinterland though, and next to the freeway on Sturt St. you come across a little hill. It is covered in native vegetation, and not actively encouraging people to visit, but it gives a great view of the mess of tower blocks and the city behind. Once again I skipped the Centre for Contemporary Art. Perhaps another day.

And so along Sturt St., following the path of the Number 1 tram for a period. A tram route I have never taken, except by accident, not least because although its winding route is no doubt fascinating, it doesn't really go anywhere particularly.

At the end of Eastern Rd. is Albert Park. It was packed with the normal collection of joggers, walkers, dogs and sailboats; some terrible golfers on the public course; and some terrible umpiring on the football fields at the Southern end.

Enough gets written about St. Kilda without me making much mention of my brief sojourn there, taking in Fitzroy Street; the pier, devoid of the kiosk but still not short of visitors; the beach, whose most charming element was a little girl throwing sand in her sister's eyes; Luna Park; and the marina, of which the less said the better. Even now, a hundred years after it was subsumed into endless Melbourne suburbs, it still retains the day-tripper element of times past. It is hard to see on the tram map, but no less than five trams have their endpoint there. Notably, the 69 and 79 that turn down Church St. and Glenferrie Rd. into inner suburbs. Once upon a time at least, transport planners considered weekend travel a worthwhile exercise.

South of St. Kilda lies the Elwood Canal. The walk along it is very pleasant, shady, and wide enough for bikes and the ubiquitous Elwood stroller. A series of little tile strips depicting elements of the local history keep you entertained with stories of boats and fishing in some parts; and detestable quagmires spreading polio, typhoid and any number of other diseases at others. I left i when it stopped being a canal and became a drain, making my way back to the beach.

From here the trip was a seemingly endless beach path with a seemingly endless stream of the same walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and dogs that I'd been seeing since Albert Park. Persistent too, was the view out over the bay, where the sun slowly made its way over the West Gate Bridge, the Yarra Power Station with its noticeable chimney stack, and the cranes of Williamstown. Noticeable too, was the CBD. The Eureka Tower is very tall, but you need to stand back about 15km before you realise just how big.

But Brighton is a different demographic to what was now behind me. The packed restaurants and cafes dried up. The housing became a little lower, a little bigger, and a little more exclusive -- this changes once you get away from the beach though, I might add. Teenagers start to appear, and the elderly. In short, I'd entered the middle suburbs. But other things were a bit disturbing, like the manicured sand dunes. Having grown up in Warnambool I am used to real sand dunes, with scrub and lots of sand. These patches of trees surrounded by crisp grass are somehow wrong.

They are especially wrong at my eventual destination. Not the Brighton Pier at left, picturesque though it is, but the sand dunes over a short promontory at the end of Park Street where the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon shot himself on the morning of the 24th June 1870. I'd expected a memorial of some kind, there being no shortage in other places -- Gordon Place, Flemington, Ballarat, Mt. Gambier, and Westminster Abbey being the most prominent -- but no sign of either the dunes or the tea-tree scrub remains.

The walk to the station was problematic. Not because it was far, but because inadequate signage meant my approximate direction pushed me to North rather than Middle Brighton, though Brighton Beach would have been better still. On the other hand, while I didn't see any of the ever invisible Melbourne buses -- it was Sunday after all -- I did photograph a good bus sign to go with my large collection of horrifically bad bus signs. One of those routes -- the 61 -- doesn't actually exist at all so perhaps it was an antique sign of sorts.

All in all, a good walk.

Melbourne Town 7th June, 2005 18:55:24   [#] 


Southbank needs help
I agree - the streets behind Southbank need trees. City Road is particularly bad. It's quite depressing actually. The highrises look so bleek and there are no groovy laneways or pleasant cafes to spend a lazy Sunday morning. If they planted it up like St Kilda Road it would be much better. The need a few terrace houses with geraniums on the balcony too. A mini-park or two would help too.
Tree Friend  9th June, 2005 10:03:44  

Quite right
I personally blame the large lot sizes TF. If a developer has aquired half a city block to build something they are going to neither build a few terrace houses, nor cut into the development with a laneway or two. Instead it is terminally uninteresting frontages.

I wonder about City Road too. Is it really serving a useful purpose now the CityLink freeway is there. Surely it could be turned into a boulevard of some sort. In fact, all the roads in that area need to be rationalised. Why build a freeway to speed up traffic if not to improve the local area it bypasses?
Russ  10th June, 2005 16:50:41  

Southbank to Brighton Walk
Just discovered your beautiful website. Wish you were in the Town Hall fighting the Forces of Evil Planning.
Perhaps there is no Marker where the Poetic Horserider 'jumped his shark', to avoid it becoming a 'place' to follow suit.?
Brownie  1st July, 2005 12:37:10  

Water, Gardens & Urban expansion
apologies for duplication - don't know how it happened.
When I was renovating in Brighton in 1973 I wanted a water tank - Council told me it was not allowed. Now I am in Ballarat surrounded by open land which is being subdivided into McMansions as I type. RainTanks should be required in all these new houses. Council should be offering wholesale-price tanks to residents who wish to pay for the installation cost. Grey water being alkaline is OK for lawns but will kill trees shrubs and ferns. Change has to begin at plant retail level where 'english type' water demanding plants should not even be offered.
Brownie  1st July, 2005 12:49:17